Friday, February 2, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Three

I woke this morning, as I often do, with a phrase echoing in my head. This time it was The eyes are windows into the soul..

The meaning's obvious. A house is constructed, not natural; and its façade hides what's inside.

I decided yesterday that Nick’s façade hides nothing. He really is the fool he appears to be. But then I remembered another phrase that echoed in my head when I woke several mornings ago:  Everything is what it seems to be. It meant of course that everything is what it seems to be to me, and it’s always seemed to me that people are more than what they seem. Everyone plays a rôle, and Nick is no exception. But why does he play the fool?

I don't want to look into Nick's eyes and see what he's hiding. I suspect I know, and if I'm right I'd feel sorry for him; and I'm tired of feeling sorry for others. Telling myself his façade hides nothing was my way of dismissing him from my thoughts. But then, after Nick left for lunch today, Amanda and Lisa started talking about him, saying how extraordinary it was that he knows about Pavlov’s dog. Even more extraordinary, I thought, that he knows about Schrödinger's cat.

I don’t want to think about Nick, but I must think about something. My work is so boring that I keep falling asleep in front of my computer.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty Two

I’m reading the letters John Butler Yeats wrote to Rosa Butt. He tells her she’s the woman he should have married, and keeps saying he will marry long after he’s too old and frail to make the voyage home to Dublin.

There was something between them after his wife died, but not enough to prevent him from fleeing to America to escape the humiliation of his failure. It was bad enough that he was never able to support his family as a painter; even worse, his sons achieved the success he couldn't.

He claimed he couldn’t leave New York because he was painting a self-portrait which would be his masterpiece, and he couldn’t paint it in Dublin because the light was different there. It probably took him so long to paint it because he was always writing to Rosa.  

Yeats is considered one of the great letter writers of the 20th century, but that’s not much of an achievement when there were so many; and most of them were really writing to themselves, as he was (and I am), putting their thoughts into words in order to understand them.

The artist, he said, should not admire life, as Americans do. He should recoil from it. He must escape from the surface of his life, and dive into his dreams. In his waking life he does what he must do. Only in his dreams is a man responsible for his actions.

Yeats’ self-portrait is not his masterpiece. He worked on it for years, and the effort shows. His masterpiece is his portrait of Rosa.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty One

Fourteen years ago, when Bush ran for re-election, everyone else in the company said they were going to vote for him. Why, I asked, after they’d complained about him throughout his first term, would they vote for him again? They told me that, despite his faults, Bush was a Republican; and they would never vote for a Democrat.

They believed their low opinion of Democrats was confirmed when, four years later, they nominated Obama. Mark was the most vocal, yelling angrily that Obama was a socialist who, if elected, would take money away from middle-class people “like us” and give it to “those tool-and-die guys”, apparently forgetting that he had been a “tool-and-die guy” himself only a few years earlier.      

They all assumed I was going to vote for Obama. Bob gently teased me for my naïveté in believing he would keep his campaign promises, while Eric and Lorna each took me aside and told me earnestly that Obama was not “the long-awaited Messiah”. I agreed that Obama was no more likely than any other politician to keep his campaign promises, without telling them that I wouldn’t be voting for him because he wasn’t a liberal, as he pretended, much less a socialist, as they imagined.

When I returned to the company three months ago, I wondered whether anyone there had learned anything in the interim. I gently teased Bob for voting for Trump, just as he had teased me for voting for Obama, expecting him to deny having voted for him. To my surprise he said he was “still cautiously optimistic” about Trump. I’m sure Bob knows Trump is a disaster. He’s too intelligent to be the ‘true believer’ he seems to be.

Mark surprised me by saying party labels are meaningless; Bush, Obama, and now Trump, are all war criminals who should be strung up from the nearest lampposts.     

Nick surprised me by saying he’s never taken any interest in politics until now, but Trump scares him.

I was sitting at my desk earlier today, aware that Nick was babbling again, but paying no attention until I heard the words “Pavlov’s dog”. I then turned my head and saw everyone else was looking at me.

“You got his attention”, said Amanda. “I bet you know about Pavlov’s dog, don't you?".

“Of course,” I said. “I’m Russian.”

“I was just telling them I was out with my buddies last night, and I made a joke about Pavlov’s dog, and none of them knew what I was talking about”, Nick said to me. “Can you believe it?”

I could believe it, because everything Nick's said about his buddies suggests they’re fools. But I was surprised Nick knew about Pavlov’s dog – or rather admitted to knowing about it. He's given everyone the impression that he is himself a fool who knows and cares only about video games. But I find his act even less convincing than Bob’s ‘true believer’ act.

While I wondered why he’d stepped out of character, Nick continued talking. I don’t know how he made the segue, but he was now talking about Schrödinger. 

Pavlov’s dog got into the box and fought with Schrödinger’s cat,” I said. “That’s why the cat was dead when the box was opened.”

“That’s not a joke,” Nick said, frowning at me. “I told them a joke, but that’s not a joke.”

So I went back to work.

Friday, January 12, 2018

One Hundred and Sixty

I was in the supermarket today, heading for the broccoli bin, when a woman stepped in front of me.

She stood there, looking into the bin with a bewildered expression. Partly to be helpful, and partly to get her out of my way, I pointed to the two prices posted above the bin and said “$1.49 a pound, and $1.99 for organic”. She smiled at me, and I knew from her smile that she wasn’t just ignorant, but what people call retarded.

When told the oracle at Delphi called him the wisest man in Athens, Socrates replied the only thing he knew was that he knew nothing. We all know so little, compared to what we don’t know, that it might as well be nothing.

Most people fear their ignorance makes them easy prey for charlatans, so they pretend - to themselves and to others - that while they don’t everything, they know everything worth knowing. People labeled retarded differ not in being more ignorant than most, but in being less fearful and suspicious. They imagine other people really do know what they pretend to know.       

It seems to me that more and more people are being labeled retarded. Not because the average level of intelligence is falling, but because there’s so much more now that people need to know, and the schools aren’t teaching it. Our rulers want subjects who are educated well enough to carry out their orders efficiently, but not well enough to think for themselves. That means people know enough to know they’re misgoverned, but not enough to govern themselves.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

One Hundred and Fifty Nine

I'm still alive because I don't take life seriously. Just as the only people who take god seriously are atheists, so the only people who take life seriously are suicides.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Eight

Lately I’ve been waking up during the night, often two or three times

I look at the clock, wondering why the alarm didn’t go off, because I feel as though I’ve slept all night. But I always find I've slept only a couple of hours.

I feel as though I’ve slept all night because my dreams leave me exhausted.

I used to remember my dreams in detail. And they were detailed. They were interesting, informative spectacles. I was always a spectator, observing them, aware they were dreams. I learned about myself from watching them. Now I remember nothing of my dreams after I wake. I wouldn’t know I’d been dreaming if I didn’t have the feeling that something momentous had been happening, and then suddenly it stopped. A great cacophony, like the sound and fury of a battle, suddenly ended and there was only the silence of my bedroom.

It was as though I'd been in a forest, and heard the sound of a distant battle. It grew louder and louder as I walked towards it until, finally, I climbed a hill and saw the soldiers below me, fighting; and they, seeing me, stopped fighting and looked up at me. Did they think I was their general?

It was as though I'd been in an insane asylum, and heard its inmates wailing. The sound grew louder and louder as I walked towards it until, finally, I opened a door and saw them; and they, seeing me, stopped wailing and looked at me. Did they think I was their doctor?

It was as though I’d been in hell.

I am in hell. We all are. I used to think I could help them. They thought so, too. But I can help no one.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

One Hundred and Fifty Seven

Google commemorated Marlene Dietrich’s birthday today with a Google Doodle of her dressed in white tie and tails. Her ‘legacy’, claimed one of the accompanying comments, was her “willingness to challenge gender norms”. Another comment described her as bisexual, which is less obtuse than those who call her a lesbian, but still wrong. 

Dietrich wasn’t attracted to men or women. She was an actress, therefore a narcissist. She created an androgynous persona to attract an audience composed of both men and women because she knew they both felt trapped in their conventional gender roles and wanted to see them challenged. Like Narcissus, she was attracted to an image of herself that she created and saw reflected in the eyes of her audience, male and female.

She was an actress who enjoyed the company of men like John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway, who performed their sexual personæ as theatrically as she did hers. 

One comment in support of the view that she was lesbian quoted her as saying “Sex is much better with a woman, but then one can’t live with a woman”; but what she meant by it isn't as obvious to me as it is to others. Was she speaking as a woman, or as the androgynous persona she created? Either one might find sex with a woman better than sex with a man, because ours is a patriarchal society in which women must learn to please men, but men aren’t expected to know what pleases women. 

A woman might also find sex with another woman better than sex with a man for the same reason that a man might find sex with another man better than sex with a woman. It’s forbidden, which makes it attractive. It’s forbidden because it’s attractive.  

Most men don’t really like women, and most women don’t really like men, because most people are conformists. Even conformists find other conformists boring and unattractive. 

Most people are such conformists that the only nonconformity they can imagine is sexual, which is why they’re obsessed with sex. Bertrand Russell supposedly encouraged his students to have sex so they weren't thinking about it constantly, and could give their undivided attention to mathematics.